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Industrial Scientific subsidiary helps reduce worker injuries

| Tuesday, June 26, 2012, 12:01 a.m.
Employees at the Industrial Scientific Corporation in Oakdale make multigas detection units Wednesday, June 6, 2012.
Heidi Murrin  Pittsburgh Tribune-Review
Employees at the Industrial Scientific Corporation in Oakdale make multigas detection units Wednesday, June 6, 2012. Heidi Murrin Pittsburgh Tribune-Review
Kent McElhattan, (left) chairman and co-founder of Industrial Scientific sits for an interview alongside the president and CEO Justin McElhattan (right) Friday May 25, 2012 inside their offices in Oakdale.
James Knox  |  Pittsburgh Tribune-Review
Kent McElhattan, (left) chairman and co-founder of Industrial Scientific sits for an interview alongside the president and CEO Justin McElhattan (right) Friday May 25, 2012 inside their offices in Oakdale. James Knox | Pittsburgh Tribune-Review
Electronic Technician Paulet Lang places larger components on a printed circuit boards in the Industrial Scientific Corporation in Oakdale Wednesday, June 6, 2012.  
Heidi Murrin  Pittsburgh Tribune-Review
Electronic Technician Paulet Lang places larger components on a printed circuit boards in the Industrial Scientific Corporation in Oakdale Wednesday, June 6, 2012. Heidi Murrin Pittsburgh Tribune-Review
Electronic Technician Paulet Lang examines the components she placed on a printed circuit board at Industiral Scientific in Oakdale on Wednesday, June 6, 2012.
Heidi Murrin | Tribune-Review
Electronic Technician Paulet Lang examines the components she placed on a printed circuit board at Industiral Scientific in Oakdale on Wednesday, June 6, 2012. Heidi Murrin | Tribune-Review
Industrial Scientific president and CEO Justin McElhattan sits for an interview Friday May 25, 2012 inside their offices in Oakdale.
James Knox  |  Pittsburgh Tribune-Review
Industrial Scientific president and CEO Justin McElhattan sits for an interview Friday May 25, 2012 inside their offices in Oakdale. James Knox | Pittsburgh Tribune-Review
Kent McElhattan, (left) chairman and co-founder of Industrial Scientific sits for an interview Friday May 25, 2012 inside their offices in Oakdale.
James Knox  |  Pittsburgh Tribune-Review
Kent McElhattan, (left) chairman and co-founder of Industrial Scientific sits for an interview Friday May 25, 2012 inside their offices in Oakdale. James Knox | Pittsburgh Tribune-Review
President and CEO Justin McElhattan (right) of Industrial Scientific sits for an interview alongside the chairman and co-founder Kent McElhattan, (left) Friday May 25, 2012 inside their offices in Oakdale.
James Knox  |  Pittsburgh Tribune-Review
President and CEO Justin McElhattan (right) of Industrial Scientific sits for an interview alongside the chairman and co-founder Kent McElhattan, (left) Friday May 25, 2012 inside their offices in Oakdale. James Knox | Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

An Atlanta-based energy utility has reduced the injury rate among workers in its construction division by 65 percent in the last four years by analyzing where and when its employees were getting hurt on the job.

Southern Co., with 1,600 employees and more than 4 million customers in the Southeast, credits software developed by Predictive Solutions, a subsidiary of Oakdale-based Industrial Scientific Corp., for the decrease.

“It was just a heck of an improvement,” said David Myers, senior construction safety manager at Southern. “We've learned a lot from Predictive Solutions from using their technology. We're becoming more cutting edge.”

Industrial Scientific, which has manufactured gas detection equipment in the Pittsburgh area for more than 25 years, predicts its growth will come from software development and “big data” analytics, which allow it to predict where accidents will happen so they can be prevented, said co-founder and Chairman Kent McElhattan.

“The world doesn't need another hard-hat supplier,” he said. “But it does need new ideas” for reducing worker injuries.

Industrial Scientific started as a research division of National Mine Service Co., making devices to detect methane and other hazardous gases in coal mines. In 1985, McElhattan and his father, who had been CEO of National Mine Service, bought the research division and formed Industrial Scientific.

In its first 15 years, the company focused on diversifying its customer base beyond the energy industry, which today accounts for about 50 percent of its clients. It makes portable devices, which workers carry or wear, and fixed-point detectors, both of which are used by a variety of industries.

In the last 10 years, Industrial Scientific's business has undergone an evolution prompted by its corporate mission: to eliminate workplace death by the end of this century.

While there was a 99 percent improvement in reducing worker deaths during the 20th century, about 100,000 people around the world are killed on the job annually, said Justin McElhattan, Kent's son and CEO since 2010.

In America, the number of fatal workplace injuries dropped 29 percent from 1994 to 2010, according to the latest numbers from the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The ambitious goal of eliminating workplace deaths requires more than just alerting workers when dangerous gases are around them, Justin McElhattan said. Companies must harness data on injuries and risky behavior to predict and prevent fatalities.

Predictive Solutions, which Industrial Scientific acquired in 2008, collects information from accident and inspection reports and other sources to help companies identify trouble areas and work on solutions. Industrial Scientific has a division that actively monitors a customer's gas detectors and finds patterns that can be corrected.

“Both (divisions) are part of our strategy for growing the analytics side of our business,” McElhattan said. “Most of our customers don't have insight into alarm events.”

The privately held company, which had about $200 million in sales last year and expects higher sales this year, employs about 310 workers at its four locations in the Pittsburgh region, including about 130 workers in its growing software development team working out of leased space at RIDC West in O'Hara. Adding in workers at manufacturing facilities in China, France and Germany, plus sales staff working from service centers in 22 countries, Industrial Scientific has a total of 925 full-time workers.

China, with its rapidly developing economy, is becoming a key market for the company, moving past Germany as Industrial Scientific's fourth-largest last year. Chinese laws are getting tougher on protecting workers in mining and other industries, which creates more opportunity for the company, McElhattan said.

“We're exporting a lot of product to China,” he said. “We're adding manufacturing jobs in the U.S. as a result.”

In Pittsburgh, the company is looking at properties for a consolidated headquarters that will bring its workforce from four locations onto one campus.

McElhattan declined to discuss details, saying no land purchase has been finalized. He said the company has talked with Bayer Corp. about buying a 36-acre parcel in Robinson.

“It'll be more efficient, easier to manage,” he said of a consolidated campus.

Alex Nixon is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7928 or anixon@tribweb.com.

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